What to do when stranded on the side of I-80

Is anyone truly prepared to lose a wheel — and wait for seven hours for a tow truck to arrive — on the side of I-80?


Charles Peckman

The view of all views – stranded on the side of I-80 in Tipton, Iowa.

Charles Peckman, News Reporter

“Ah, it’s probably nothing,” I’ve learned, is probably not the best attitude to have toward automobile-related predicaments. It was around 8:45 a.m., if I recall correctly; my head was carefully balanced on a white bath towel and David Sedaris’ audiobook Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, was playing in the background. I’m the first to admit that I’m a napper during long drives — not by choice, however, but an overwhelming urge (or propensity) to close my eyes as the tires smoothly glide across the asphalt.

Smoothly glide, that is, in theory — for at 8:46, I was awakened to a rather monotonous thud, thud, thud, and the sight of my girlfriend Genevieve (who was driving) wide-eyed with her hands tightly clutched around the steering wheel. Within moments, the thud, thud, thud had become much worse, and the car’s demeanor was that of an injured opossum attempting aimlessly to cross the street. “One hell of an alarm clock,” I thought.

Simultaneously, Genevieve shouted “s**t” and the front, right wheel flew off. It promptly bounced, like a smooth pebble across a calm pond, and landed in a corn field 100 feet to our right. We quickly pulled over and took a few (much needed) deep breaths. We were OK, after all, and had never lost control of the blue Nissan; it had simply decided that it could live without a fourth wheel. It became apparent to us immediately that we would not make it back to Iowa City (which was exactly 30 miles west) without assistance of some sort.

At 9:15, we placed a call to Triple-A (or the American Automobile Association), where the dispatcher told us a tow truck would arrive by 11:30 a.m. “OK,” we collectively thought, “that’s not that long.” Between gazing longingly at the barren landscape before us and snacking on our ever-melting chocolate bars, it seemed as though the minute and hour hand of my vintage Benrus watch were moving selfishly, without any regard for our stomachs, bladders, and classes we were missing — 11:30 a.m. quickly turned into 12:50 p.m. after we followed up with Triple-A, and 12:50 p.m. quickly turned into 2 p.m. The novelty of our predicament quickly dissipated, as the morning dew was replaced with a steady stream of traffic: weary travelers, modular homes, and care-free dogs sticking their heads out the window.

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Eventually, we were rescued by a nine-fingered tow-truck operator from DeWitt, Iowa — this came, of course, after I clumsily climbed a barbed-wire fence to retrieve the missing wheel which, upon recovering, discovered was much farther than my initial 100-foot guesstimate. With the AWOL accouterment carefully thrown in the trunk of the Nissan, Genevieve and I climbed into the cab of the tow truck, thankful to be in a different vehicle. Our chauffeur, a rather portly gentleman in his late-60s, quietly drove us to a mechanic in Coralville.

Based on 262 ratings submitted in the last year, Triple A boasts a 1.4/5 star rating for overall satisfaction of service and response time; although I was thankful no one was hurt when the now-missing wheel pulled its escape act, it was rather disconcerting to experience a seven-hour wait on the side of I-80, relying on Bear Grylls-esque methods to relieve ourselves (if you’re catching my drift.) Even though this may be the case, I was glad to learn that not every UI student has experienced an overbearingly lengthy road-side stay.

Rogie Soeu, a UI junior from Sioux City, said he has the proclivity to lock his keys in the car. The third time this happened, he was with a friend who has Triple A, so there was no need to call a locksmith (which Soeu said usually costs $60 and takes a few hours.)

Although the service itself, Soeu said, was snappy (a tow truck arrived within an hour) he noted that the voice-assisted initial call in which he had to share his name, car make/model, license plate number, location, and other details were incredibly monotonous. I completely understood his position and felt a healthy amount of animosity toward the … robotic voices we all find at the other end of the phone. Overall, Soeu (and I, for that matter) will not find ourselves registering with Triple A anytime soon.

“Would I personally register with AAA? No,” Soeu said. “I wouldn’t use it enough, and I bet it’s expensive. They were nice, though. This incident gave me the encouragement I needed to make a copy of my car key … finally.”

No matter the distance you will travel, I only have one word of advice — be sure to pack a snack and bring a crossword puzzle, because you never know when you will be wheel-less in Tipton.